I chewed on my lips for the umpteenth time, fully aware of how close I was to making them bleed. This was a serious matter and I had no other options. For all of my assertions of being a strong, independent woman, the world did seem too large and foreboding, especially at night. The sun had set before I could shrug on my cardigan.
It had taken me approximately four hours to force myself out of bed to venture outside. The world is a dangerous place, especially for women. It didn’t matter how socioeconomically different areas were. There is always one man present to make you feel uncomfortable in your skin, like an impostor wearing a mask, insecure and incomplete. I had been followed by men, stalked both physically and online.
I had overheard two men debate if physical crimes were more threatening than cyber-crimes. Well, as someone who had experienced both, I really did wish they wouldn’t make it a competition. Then again, men don’t have to face a constant threat to their very existence and presence like women do.
It wasn’t as if I hadn’t been on my own before, but this felt much more different. Maybe it was the darkness outside, and the cold. The smog had come down in full force but the wind had made it worse. Lahore was a city festering in its own filth yet alive in spirit. I was to go into it by myself and hope to whatever universal deity, energy; the Fates were controlling us to keep me safe. Then, as a precautionary measure I shoved down a pocket knife into the pocket of my jeans; divine beings rarely come to the rescue of mere mortals.
Not much money in my pocket, I ordered a bike instead of a car. As I stood outside the building, several cars whizzed past, some slowing down so the passengers could take a look at me. I quietly laughed to myself recalling an incident where I had been mistaken as a prostitute. A man had leaned out of the car window and had asked me a question. Young and quite naive I had leaned forward to answer but a friend had intervened, pulling me back and muttering a sharp expletive at the man, who had driven away grinning at his own superior wit.
That was a long time ago and I took the world more seriously. One of the things I’d found myself doing was being nice to every single driver there was. These people could make or break your night. For instance, going out shopping was fun as opposed to being kidnapped, murdered and raped, not necessarily in that order. It was just another precaution women have to take. Being nice to men who don’t deserve it is incredibly hard especially when you’re in a vulnerable position.
Whilst on the bike, I was pleasantly surprised to observe the driver kept his distance and didn’t try and break harshly. Many tried that so the female passenger would be thrust into their backs, providing them some sort of physical comfort and excitement.
For the first time in my life, as I busily ran errands, stood on the side of streets, and spent my money away, there wasn’t a single man that tried to lay his hands on me, despite having been touched without consent even in the presence of male and female friends before. Lucky as I was, I couldn’t help but think of the other women who had never experienced such an odd sense of victory and what a pity it was, that a man’s regular experience did not include the kind of fear instilled in women from a young age.
Even if I was financially stable, I still preferred being accompanied by friends. We need to acknowledge the mental toll it takes on women when they have to remain constantly vigilant and hyper-aware of their surroundings if they wish to retain their security.
Now, if we’d have taught men to mind their own business from the very start, would any of us have been scared to go out alone at night?